Friday, June 6, 2014

Answering the Riddle at Charlemont Trails (June 2014)

Something tells me the skiing in this glade isn't too shabby either.
A couple of years ago I was enjoying an evening ride on the singletrack around Belmont Rock Meadow when I came across another mountain biker.  We stopped to chat for moment and he presented me with a riddle that I've been struggling with ever since.

"Where can I find the real big hills around here? The long climbs and descents?", he posited.

I could tell from his accent that he wasn't from the area, most likely Europe, and was probably used to suffering though long alpine climbs.  That, and he probably liked Toblerone and trance music.

By this time in my mountain biking career I had already been out West once, California to be specific, and ridden their trails with hour long ascents and descents.  I knew what he was referring to.  Aside from the White Mountain notches and their paved passes, I was hard pressed to come up with an answer.  Kingdom Trails offers some of the longest ascents and descents, but they are still far short of the climbing and descending I had seen in Noble Canyon. And sure, Massachusetts had hills, but to get any real elevation you had to lap them or link together a ride of dozens of miles.

Then I started hearing the rumors from Western Massachusetts:  "Climbing, climbing and more climbing!" And eventually the name "Charlemont Trails" entered my consciousness.

Bear cub trail.
I was no stranger to Charlemont.  Gered and I had been there in the winter to ski the Eastern Gate and Flemish Bastard slides above Route 2.  I had also heard of Zoar Outdoor who run rafting, zip lining, and other outdoor adventures in the area.  I had even skied Berkshire East.  And last fall, I was a hair away from packing up the car and joining Charlemont's yearly "Whole Enchilada" ride.  But I had yet to be there with my mountain bike, that is, until recently.

I got in touch with Harold Green, a local NEMBA leader, and asked for a decent route to see everything Charlemont had to offer.  He gave me very detailed directions based on the current conditions (see below).  He even included "bail-out" options if I decided to scale back my ambitious goal of seeing everything in one day.  Thankfully, Harold is both a detailed direction giver and also pretty decent at predicting the future.

I used my trip to Charlemont as an excuse to reconnect with an old friend from high school who was living out in Western Massachusetts.  We met at the Berkshire East parking lot on a Sunday morning.  After grabbing a map at the gift shop (the resort is open during the summer) we headed out onto the trails.  Thankfully my friend was in decent shape from road biking and my fears of having to carry him around the trails were allayed.

We found our way onto the brand new Poison Ivy trail, which connected us to Bozrah Brook.  Bozrah snaked upward past a three way intersection, and after a mild climb, we weaved our way through the woods, descending back to the trail junction with Wilderness.  This is an excellent short section for beginners looking for their first turns on singletrack, and rode really well- and fast.

Wilderness, however, is a merciless pain room of relentless climbing.  It switched, back-and-forth, across the fall line of the mountain, snaking upwards.  Although we bent under the endless climb, we took our time and neither of us broke down.  Our relaxed, but steady pace, allowed ample time to snap photos as well as discuss the last twenty years of our lives.  The trail continued upward onto Silver Doe as it roamed through the woods.  After crossing a stone wall, we passed under a frighteningly long zip-line until entering the woods and climbing some more.  We climbed for well over an hour until we eventually reached the trail junction with Estranged Moose, high above where we had started.

We stumbled across a large set of mud pits cordoned off by barbed wire and tank barriers.  We figured it was part of the recent Bone Frog Challenge held at Berkshire East- or possibly evidence of some shady community re-education project.  We'll leave you to decide.

In any event we were anxious to get moving.  We had banked a boatload of vertical, and it was time to make a withdrawal.

Depositing vertical in the pain room.
Estranged Moose had a few quick climbs, but descended slowly across the ridge northward.  The real fun began when we entered Billy's World.

Starting our descent down Billy's World.

The very top of Billy's World followed some ridges, passed felled trees, crossed under a powerline, and cascaded down what seemed like an endless line of slowly descending switchbacks.  We jumped, turned and hopped our way across the mountain.  This was one of my friend's first rides on a full suspension bike and he was completely blown away.  The trail was natural, raw, and technical.  Roots, rocks and steep banked corners had us dancing around our seats in an effort to stay on our bikes. We used every inch of our suspensions as we bounded down the mountain.  The setting couldn't have been more beautiful:  Vibrantly green spring colors resonated through the spacious hardwood glen.  For what seemed like a good half-hour we continued to descend through the forest.

The descent was nothing short of amazing.  It was easily longer than anything else I had ridden in the Northeast.  It was the answer to the riddle I had been pondering all that time.

One of the many beautifully banked turns.

Eventually we emerged onto doubletrack which led us back around the mountain to the parking lot.

Although we had only seen less than half of what Charlemont had to offer, we had made a late start and slow progress- and didn't have time to venture across the road to see the other half.   Still, we put in over 1500 feet of climbing in the ten miles and two hours of biking we had done.  It was a decent half day.

Now the only riddle is, when I can get back to see the second half.

Here are Harold's directions with a few of our edits (Note that this avoids some decent trails that were wet at the time):

Begin from Berkshire East's main parking area (Because it is Zip Line season, the lodge is open for changing/water/snacks and maps from 9 to 5 on Sundays). Follow signs to Tubing Parking, and loop for single track heading into the woods just a the far end of the parking lot. This is a new trail called Poison Ivy (some portions are no-fall zones), it connects to Bozrah Brook Trail. Follow Bozrah Brook past the 3 way intersection with Wilderness, Bear Cub and Bozrah - the right fork. Follow along the brook edge, until you reach the other end of Bear Cub on your left. Take that back to the 3 way intersection, then take Wilderness. This trail will climb to about mid-mountain. At the intersection of Silver Doe, take that and climb all the way to the gravel road (about 2 miles). [At the first split, head right (down) so that you cross under the zipline, not up to the top of the lifts. There's also a three way interesection after reaching a plateau. Go right to hug the road] At the Gravel Road, take a right, then another right and descend East Mtn Road to Hawks Brook Trail (will turn sharply left down from the road******* [You've missed th turn if youre descending doubletrack for more than 20 yards]. Climb Hawks Brook Trail then cross East Mtn Road and Ride MST to the Solar Field. At the Solar Field, turn left then look for Estranged Moose on your Left.  [MST also crosses Estranged Moose on a rocky ledge in the woods. We took a right onto EM at this intersection] Follow Estranged Moose to Billy's World and descend all the way to the paved road just east of Berkshire East's main lot. (Possible end point to the ride.)

Take a left, and then a right at the Railroad tracks, crossing the river and then turn right and look for Riddell Road on your left. Climb Riddell Rd until just about the top of the pasture on your left. Look for a Single track called No-Name on your right. Follow it until it ends, then turn right and take the double track back to the top of the pasture. Continue up Riddell Rd, until you reach Game Trail on your left, follow Game Trail, until it joins Sweet 16, follow Sweet 16 back to Riddell Rd. Continue up Riddell Rd, until you reach Middle Loop Rd (a recently skidded logging road), turn left onto Middle Loop Rd and look for Red Zone on your Right, about 1/4 mile out on Middle Loop. Descend Red Zone until you reach a logging road - Outer Loop. Turn left, then look for Rice Brook Trail on your right, about 50 yards down. Take Rice Brook Trail to the end at the farm bridge. Cross the farm bridge, and climb the gravel road keeping right, to the sugarbush where you'll see a single track going into the bush marked with white blazes. This is the Zoar Warfield Connector Trail. (Possible End Point - follow road to the left to Warfield Road and descend back to Town.)

Follow the Zoar Warfield Connector until it intersects with TV Tower Trail. Take TV Tower and climb to the intersection on the right with Get Smart, take Get Smart to Lost, follow Lost to the Summit then continue on Lost to Happy Days. Take a right on Happy days, back to TV Tower. Descend TV Tower back to the Zoar Warfield Connector, then turn right on the Connector and Follow it to West Side Trail. Take West Side to Out of Gas, then Out of Gas to King Phillip's to Zoar's Base area.

Yeah, that's barbed wire around freshly displaced dirt.  Nothing to see here.  Move along.


  1. So because we has European "he probably liked Toblerone and trance music"?!? Duh...
    I like your writing and what you say, and I enjoy a lot your backcountry skiing stories, but jeezzez christ, nothing puts me off more than clichés and generalizations. Europeans= toblerone and trance music? I guess seeing that you put ALL europeans in the same bag you won't mind if people from other countries portray ALL citizens of the USA as obese guncrazy hillbillies, will you?

    An European (Spaniard) who doesn't like trance music nor generalizations.


    1. Ease down there Morroi. Take a deep breath. Thanks for reading our blog and I took a peek at yours- good stuff!

      This gun crazy hillbilly was just using a little hyperbole, which I think might have gotten lost in translation. Don't worry, we know that generalizations generally aren't true... most of the time, in general.

      For example, most people think Americans are hypersensitive weenies that are so self-important they can't take a joke about themselves and Europeans have an excellent sense of humor when it comes to poking fun at themselves. We know this is a gross over-generalization.

      And besides, I was clearly talking about your Austro-Hungarian friends to the East. If I wanted to get your goat I would talk about speedos, second tier wines and mariachi music. Ole!

      (And yes, I know mariachi music is Mexican and not Spanish.. but that got your goat for a second, didn't it?)

      Okay, okay, enough.

      Keep up the good work on your blog as we'd love to see more photos from your beautiful corner of the world.

      And hopefully someday soon Gered is going to post a report on his recent trip to Spain to get trounced by some of your local mountain bikers.

  2. As long as you don't come around with guns, a patronizing attitude and moaning why things are not like they are 'back in the States', you'll be more than welcome. But wait....speedos and second tier wines?!?! You DEFINITELY need to travel abroad more often and not trust google searches so much. :-)

    Keep well and keep riding.


    P.S.: Europeans might have an excellent sense of humor, but us the fiery people from the south, we like to bang our (hairy) chest while chopping trees and lifting stones for a hobby (check We are basically just a different kind of hillbillies I guess...

  3. Thank you for your beautiful recount of your Charlemont ride! I hope you make it back for the Whole Enchilada to finish your tour of the trail system. While climbing is not too high on my list of favorite things to do at the moment I've had the pleasure of enjoying the fruits of Harold and co's labor many times in the past, and we in the Happy Valley are blessed by an abundance of wonderful trails and gorgeous scenery!

    Yours truly -
    a European quite fond of Toblerone and trance music..... ;-)

    1. Thanks for the kind words Stefanie, and I hope to be there for this year's Whole Enchilada.

  4. This is a very cool write up. I'm a flat lander from eastern mass. I joined the Nemba fun at Wendell last weekend. I got an education on what a climb really is...and I suffered. I'm inspired by the strong riders out there and want to get to the point where I can enjoy more the gems out that in Western Mass.

    1. I'm a big fan of Wendell- definitely another Western MA gem. Good-on-ya for getting out there and pushing yourself. The climbs only get easier that way. Thanks for dropping by our site.